Sunday, August 29, 2010

Movie Review: The Sky Crawlers

Japanese Anime, very recent; directed by Mamoru Oshii; from a novel (graphic is my guess) by Hiroshi Mori.

Air combat, in the style of World War II but with semi-futuristic aircraft that reminded me of the comic, “Luftwaffe 1946.” For fighters, one side flies a very Mustang like aircraft with double prop’s; the other side flies a swept-wing, double pusher-prop plane with canard wings, very reminiscent of the planes flown by the English sky-carrier pilots in “Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow.” Other than the scenes of aerial combat, other aspects of actual war are strangely absent.

I watched the movie on my “Asia Movies” channel, so it was in Japanese with no assistance for the layman. After my viewing, I checked the Internet Movie Data Base and found out a little about the story, which I will share at the end of this post. (

The story is told from the point of view of the side with the pusher-prop planes, one particular unit at a remote airfield where the hangers show signage for “Rostock Iron Works.” The insignia on the planes is vaguely reminiscent of the logo of U.S. Steel. The pilots, and the commander, are teenagers, which is the norm for Japanese Anime. They speak Japanese and read Japanese newspapers, but when they leave the base they go to “Daniel’s Diner,” where the T.V. news is in English. In one news article, the announcer says that a number of “Rainbow aircraft of the [so-and-so corporation] were shot down today . . .” The pilots also speak English in the cockpit on sorties.

That corporation remark was a good clue. There’s obviously no real war going on, there’s virtually no security at the air base, the aircraft are kept in old fashioned, above ground hangers that would be right at home at any small, 20th Century civilian airport. There are no revetments, no earthen birms, no perimeter, no blast protection of any kind. (They do have radar.)

A tour bus comes to the airport with another clue to what’s going on. The tourists are fans of the pilots, even seeking autographs. They flatter the pilots that they are “fighting for a peaceful world.” They refer to the pilots’ “team.”

The presentation is visually wonderful, and the music is good too. The textures of surfaces, and the perspective of rooms, are rendered with remarkable precision. Things like clouds, or the surface of the ocean, are naturalistic in their appearance and movement. All thanks to modern software, no doubt. The characters, on the other hand, are the usual Anime abstractions.

The pusher-prop ace is a kid named Cairn, who is perpetually lighting a cigarette and never loses his 2,000 yard stare. The second half of the movie was mostly exposition, including a long memory-montage, but I missed it all, not understanding Japanese. There were little windows of English, like when Cairn says in the cockpit, kind of blandly, “I killed my father.” Maybe he only heard it, or thought it. If anything, he sounded a little bit surprised.

The pilots and the commander kill time at a giant whore-house, they go bowling, they have a few beers, and they ride around on or in vehicles including scooters, motorcycles, a late seventies Porsche Carrera, and a late fifties Cadillac convertible with huge fins. They are obviously deeply depressed, they wave guns around and threaten suicide, usually with cigarettes in their mouths and/or beers in their hands.

In the midst of the exposition, there is a huge, well mounted air battle that looks like a high-tech Battle of Britain. There are hundreds of planes in the action, with lots of loses. By the end of the movie, a huge catalog of these old fashioned/future tech planes have been lovingly displayed. (Insider alert: if you are a fan of “Luftwaffe 1946,” or Nazi X-planes, you’ll love this movie.)

There is a final showdown between Cairn and the ace of the Mustang jockeys, a guy with a long, abstract black cougar on the side of his plane. Cairn is brilliant, as usual, the aerial maneuvers are very creative, but he gets shot down. The ‘Stang driver is just too strong, and his plane is very heavily armed. When the wing guns fire, shell casings fly out the back of the wings wholesale, and in the final encounter he fires a big nose cannon that he had kept under wraps until then.

The ending is a cliché, the commander standing on the field, beneath ominous clouds, accompanied by the squadron’s faithful dog. Finally she and the dog turn and walk away. (Fade to credits.)

EXPLANATION: Here’s the synopsis from the Internet Movie Data Base:

“Youngsters called ‘Kildren,’ who are destined to live eternally in their adolescence . . . everyday could be their last, because they fight a war as entertainment, organized and operated by adults . . . they live their day-to-day lives to the full.”

So it’s an unconventional anti-war movie. It’s no “Burmese Harp,” no “Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence,” no “All Quiet on the Western Front,” but I get it, and it’s a pretty good show. Find it if you like this kind of thing.

1 comment:

fred c said...

There are a lot of videos on YouTube showing aspects of "Sky Crawlers." Trailers; clips; vid's about the video game. It's pretty stuff.

Thanks Keith for the heads-up!